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An account of abuse in Rabea

With its one-month anniversary around the corner and attacks on its participants only increasing, tensions are high at the Rabea al-Adaweya Muslim Brotherhood sit-in, defiance now sharing the air with paranoia and suspicion. Reports of the torturing of “infiltrators” by the sit-in’s members have by this point been confirmed — the same cannot be said of claimed sightings of bodies being removed from the area. Meanwhile, another form of escalation seems to be taking place.

Speaking to Mada Masr under condition of anonymity, 40-year-old Tarek Badr (not his real name) describes how his efforts to renew a driver’s license last Monday resulted in his temporary detainment and physical abuse.

“Obviously, that whole area is part of the [pro-Morsi] sit-in, they’ve occupied the entrance to that building as well,” Badr says of the Nasr City Traffic/Motor Registry Department, which stands directly adjacent to the mosque around which the sit-in was formed. “I went down alone but there were several other people there, trying to get their paperwork done as well.”

The group attempted to access the building, but “people began to gather around us, telling us that we had to accept Morsi as our president and that we were doing Islam a huge disservice by not respecting him enough. We told them we just wanted to get our paperwork done, and that it shouldn’t take more than an hour if they’d let us through.”

Meanwhile a side conversation was going on, one which Badr thought “seemed to have been started by a resident of [the buildings currently besieged by the sit-in] who had been trying to reason with the protestors.” Volunteers from the sit-in’s security team then showed up (“I could tell because of their helmets and padded vests”) and asked some questions before rounding up 13 of the outsiders and escorting them from the scene.

“It wasn’t directly forceful, the way they took us,” he says. “But it didn’t have to be — it’s their sit-in, their territory. The group that moved the 13 of us consisted of 10 or fewer individuals, but what are you going to do?”

As they moved through the sit-in, “none of its members seemed to notice or care about what was going on, or had any objection about the fact that we were clearly being lead somewhere.”

The 13 men were then lined up along the wall of a public school across from the Motor Registry Department, somewhat removed from the heart of the sit-in. “They made us face the wall as they searched us, and took our wallets and phones. They struck us on our backs and necks with sticks and their bare hands. The whole time they were questioning us — not for anything useful, just to understand how and why we were not accepting Morsi as our ‘master’ — that’s the word they used. They called us the ‘enemies of Islam’.”

Although some of the men attempted to object to their treatment, Badr suffered silently. “I could see what happened with the people who spoke up — they just got struck for it, and harsher insults. And I thought of what I’ve seen in the news recently — I didn’t want to have my fingers amputated, or worse. And for what? There is no conversation that could have been had, no room for any sort of discussion.”

“I did want to ask them, though: Why all this? Why build a so-called Islamic state in a public square? Aren’t we all Egyptians, and isn’t this a Muslim country? Why is it that you’re in a country yet all you can see of it is this square? At the very least, welcome the people who come to this square, then. Don’t terrorize and antagonize them.”

“But I said nothing,” he admits.

The 13 men — “two of whom seemed under 30, one was definitely over 50, and the rest in the middle” — were then divided into two groups. “They took eight of us away from the school, and I could tell the five that stayed behind were the ones deemed responsible for starting that conversation earlier.”

“To be honest, I can’t remember the faces of any of the other men,” he says. “But the older man was among the five kept at the school.”

Away from the school, the men were given LE20 each, told to return to the sit-in after iftar to reclaim their possessions, and finally released. “I didn’t want to go back there, obviously,” Badr claims. “I made some calls, searching for someone who might have a reliable contact within the Brotherhood to go back with me to Rabea.”

The following morning he returned to the sit-in with a sympathetic Brother, he says, and was directed to a “lost items” stand where, from a plastic bag, a sit-in volunteer returned a wallet minus its money and one of two cellular phones.

“I thanked them for their courtesy and accommodation, and left,” he says. “Of course, they tried to apologize, claiming that the whole situation was just a giant misunderstanding and that this isn’t the way the Muslim Brotherhood operates, it’s just the pressure they were under — of course, there was none of this talk the previous day.”

Similar statements were made by the son of a leading Brotherhood figure who also spoke to Mada Masr under condition of anonymity. “There is torture that goes on in the sit-in, but I was surprised to find out about it. I’ve since seen it — the amputations, the electrocution — that stuff is real. But it is not condoned, nor an official position. There’s little supervision on the sit-in and things can get out of hand.”

The son — who claims to no longer be a member of the group — feels the need to point out that “the Brothers who got arrested while taking a torture victim to the hospital, they were the ones who actually freed that man from the square — they’re my friends, that’s how I found out about all this.”

But these claims do little to placate those who survived what can be considered much milder abuses at the heart of the Islamist sit-in. “I was called an infidel countless times,” he says. “The enthusiasm displayed by [those men] for verbal and physical abuse is incredible, and that’s what upset me the most — that and the fact that there was nothing to justify their behavior. In fact, it seemed like they wanted to provoke something from us — to have us give them a reason.”

Between repeated calls by significant segments of the population for the clearing of the Islamist sit-ins, echoed in ultimatums by the Armed Forces and proposals by the government — the most recent of which being a siege to “starve out” the protestors — members of the sit-in likely feel they already have all the reasons they need to in order to justify their stance. Others, including Badr, disagree. “A true Islamist state — like the one they claim to have created in Rabea — would accept people and invite conversation,” he suggests. “Instead, they reject both.”

Editor’s note: The headline has been changed from “An account of torture in Rabea” to “An account of abuse in Rabea” as a better reflection of the story’s content. 

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Ali Abdel Mohsen